Interview with Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal.
Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal is optimistic that the BJP will not only win the Shimla Municipal Corporation elections in April but also sweep the Assembly polls in 2003. Dhumal, who is also the State BJP president, spoke to T.K. Rajalakshmi. Excerpts:
How do you think the BJP will fare in the Shimla Municipal Corporation elections on April 27 and in the Assembly polls next year?
The Congress(I) has been in power since 1986 in the Corporation and these elections are going to be a people's verdict on the performance of that party over the past 16 years. I am confident that we shall win a majority in the next Corporation Council. The Corporation under the Congress(I) failed to provide facilities to the people. The roads maintained by the Corporation and by the government are there for everyone to see. We have started work to create fountains, initiated cleanliness drives and banned the use of recycled polythene bags. Shimla lost its glory under Congress rule and we have started work to regain that glory. Owing to our excellent and balanced work in the State, we have been able to unite the people emotionally. We undertook Vikas Yatras in the State and explained to the people the need for development, and also took suggestions.
What are the chances of an anti-incumbency wave affecting the electoral prospects of your party? Also, a third political alternative seems to be emerging in the State.
There is no threat of an anti-incumbency wave. In 1999, when we lost in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, we won all the four Lok Sabha seats here. There is no question of a third front in Himachal Pradesh. Even if the Congress(I) is united, we will defeat them.
There is a lot of resentment among the people regarding the steep hikes in electricity rates for domestic consumers and the imposition of user and service charges in the health sector and so on.
The Congress(I) introduced user charges for health services and raised them in 1986 and 1994. We have not introduced any new charges, but have formed Rogi Kalyan Samitis (patient welfare associations). The patient pays or donates a small service charge and it goes to the Kalyan Samitis in the hospitals.
Earlier, what was free service actually meant no service. Now the patients will be able to get better services. As for power, we are charging the lowest rates in the country for domestic consumers. For Antyodaya families, it is 70 paise a unit. We have given concessions to industry but on the condition that industries operate in the night as well.
The Himachal Vikas Congress has candidates in 22 wards of the Corporation. Have the relations between the BJP and its coalition partner soured?
Our ties are cordial. Maybe this arrangement favours us.
It is said that Shanta Kumar's statement on Narendra Modi is, in fact, a veiled criticism of your government.
Politics has taken such a turn today that individuals prefer to air their own views.
Unemployment seems to be a serious problem in the State. There are also allegations that you favoured your relatives for government jobs. It is also alleged that you have unduly favoured Hamirpur, your constituency.
We have provided thousands of jobs and young men have to realise that government jobs are limited in number. Several people get enrolled in the employment exchange despite having some kind of an employment. That inflates the figures. Actually, there are only between four and five lakh unemployed people, but the figure shows nine lakhs. There is a lot of false propaganda about unemployment. None of my relatives who are in government jobs have been appointed on grounds other than merit. As for favouring Hamirpur, who does not favour his own constituency?